Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill Monday that permits the use of semi-automatic rifles and handguns for hunting. The law does not expand the type of guns that may be owned or possessed in the state, nor does it make semi-automatics legal for hunting in time for the upcoming firearm deer season, which opens Nov. 28.
Unlike automatic weapons, or machine guns, which fire multiple cartridges with the single pull of the trigger, semi-automatics require the shooter to pull once for each shot — the next cartridge is automatically pushed into the firing chamber. Guns with other types of actions are currently legal for hunting. They require the shooter to manually move each cartridge into the chamber.
Semi-automatic rifles and handguns are currently legal to own, possess, shoot and use for self-defense in Pennsylvania. The law does not automatically permit hunting with semi-automatics — it authorizes the state Game Commission to regulate their use in hunting situations. The board of game commissioners is expected to adopt regulations in 2017.
Semi-automatic shotguns are currently permitted for waterfowl and small game hunting, but must be plugged to a three-shell capacity. The sporting arms are legal for deer hunting in special regulation areas and do not require plugs.
"I am pleased that this measure is now law in Pennsylvania," said the initiative's co-sponsor, Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango. "I've heard from numerous sportsmen and women who would like to use the same semi-automatic rifles for hunting that they practice with at the firing range, but Pennsylvania is one of the few states that [had disallowed] these firearms for hunting of any kind."
With the bill's approval, Pennsylvania becomes the 49th state to permit hunting with semi-automatic rifles.
Shira Goodman, executive director of the gun-violence prevention association CeaseFire PA, said the group has remained neutral on the legislation.
The use of semi-auto rifles for hunting has been debated in some form by the General Assembly since 2011. The bill's overwhelming acceptance is considered the result of bipartisan compromise. The Senate bill was approved Oct. 26 with a vote of 40-7. The next day, the House voted 160-25 in favor of HB 263.